Filipinos always say that the Philippines has the longest Christmas season. Well, that claim can really be hard to contest. Only in thePhilippineswill you hear Christmas carols being played over the radio as early as September. This only shows that Christmas is the most awaited event in the country.
This much-celebrated season is accompanied by a variety of beautiful customs and traditions that Filipinos observe. Here are some of them with tips on how they are properly observed.
- Putting up the Christmas décors – There is no hard and fast rule when Christmas decors should be set up. Some put up theirs immediately after the observance of All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2). We think it is timely to set-up your Christmas décors beginning on the First Sunday of Advent. As Advent is the time when Christians start to prepare for Christmastide, the Christmas decors will be good ascetical reminders that we need to prepare ourselves spiritually for the season. The lighting of the advent wreath at home during the four Sundays of Advent is a good opportunity for family bonding and get-together. The standard Christmas decors in a Filipino household are the Christmas Nativity Scene, the Christmas Lantern or the “Parol”, the Christmas tree and lights, and the Family Advent Wreath, just to name a few.
- “Simbang Gabi” – This is the nine-day novena Mass before Christmas Day. It starts on December 16 and ends on the “midnight” Mass of December 24. Until the early 80’s, the Simbang Gabi was only held in the morning, either at4:30 am or5:00 am. Now with more people going to mass and with the change in lifestyle, the “Simbang Gabi’” is now also held in the evenings. Of course, any “Simbang Gabi” will not be complete without the “bibingka” (rice cake), “puto bungbong” (sticky rice cake), and the “tsokolate eh” (hot cocoa) to fill one’s stomach after hearing mass. The culmination of these novena masses is the December 24midnight Mass held on December 24 starting at either9:30pm or10:00pm.
- Caroling – Starting on the evening of December 16, street carolers, adults and kids alike, go around house-to-house singing well-loved Filipino and English Christmas carols to their hearts’ delight. Their lyrics may be unclear, their songs may sometimes be out of tune but what the heck! At the end of their performances, homeowners hand them out tokens, usually in cash, in appreciation for their efforts to spread the good cheer.
- “Noche Buena” – This is the family dinner after attending the December 24MidnightMass. This is one of the much awaited events in the family as a sumptuous meal is usually prepared for everyone to partake. Christmas Hams and Queso de Bolas are the common entrée in the menu. The other food courses may vary from family to family but what is material is that the family is together before the dinner table to commemorate the birth of the Lord and give thanks for the graces received.
- Opening of Gifts – This practice again differs from one family to another. Some exchange gifts during the Noche Buena and open them immediately in front of the other family members. Others leave their gifts under the Christmas tree and open them on Christmas Day. It is all right whichever way you do it in your family. What is relevant anyway, is to let the feeling of togetherness, of belongingness, and of love radiate toward each member of the family.
- Aguinaldos – It is customary, especially in the earlier days, that the godchildren visit their godparents on Christmas Day to pay their respects, keep in touch, and receive some words of advice being their “second” parents. After their visit, the godparents would hand them their Christmas presents called “Aguinaldos”, either in kind or in cash. Sadly, this beautiful custom is now seldom practiced. Few parents today bring their children to their godparents on Christmas Day. What sometimes happens is that the godparents will merely send their aguinaldos to their inaanak (godchildren). Because of this, the relationship between the godchildren and their godparents is no longer cultivated and nurtured. The godchildren lose out on receiving valuable advices and fail to witness good role models in action other than their parents, while the godparents lose their opportunity to practice their responsibility to be real second parents to their godchildren.
- Welcoming the New Year – As the New Year draws near, people start to get frenzy with preparations. There is the food, the planned activities, the fireworks to secure, and the clothes to wear for New Year’s Eve. Just like the Christmas Eve, people usually attend the late night Mass on New Year’s Eve. After which, they go home for the Media Noche. While waiting for12 midnight to arrive, some light fireworks to ward off evil spirits and to welcome the coming year. As soon as12 midnight strikes, family members jump and greet each other “Happy New Year”, make a toast, and partake of the splendid meal they have prepared. The Christmas Ham and Queso de Bola still take center stage at the family dinner table with other family favorites like the spaghetti/pancit, fruit salad, lechon and more. Some families make sure that they have the twelve rounded fruits on their table for good luck throughout the 12 months of the new year. Others would have “kakanin” or native rice cakes for family harmony and unity.
No matter how you celebrate the Holiday Season, whether it be opulent or simple, what is important is that we do not get lost in the whirl of things and focus on the true meaning of the season – that God entered human history out of LOVE for mankind!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family!!!